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What is Gonorrhea and How is it Different from Chlamydia?

February 28, 2022
Miranda Obryan

Did you know that if the entire population of the United States was tested for sexually transmitted infections today, about 20% would test positive? That’s what was found in a 2018 study of the top eight STIs.

The top 8 include:

  • HPV
  • HSV-2
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Chlamydia
  • HIV
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • HBV

In lockstep with the CDC releasing their new STI Treatment Guidelines last year, we’re providing relevant information in our blog regarding STIs to keep you informed. In case you missed it, here’s the scoop on Chlamydia.

Let’s take this opportunity to move on to our review of the second most common bacterial STI: gonorrhea.

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea, like chlamydia, is a bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact. The name of the bacteria in gonorrheal infections is called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacteria grows on the inner membranes of the reproductive tracts of both men and women and can also thrive in the mouth, throat, rectum, and even eyes. You can catch gonorrhea by engaging in sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, or anal sex, with someone who is infected. It can also be passed during birth from mother to child.

Gonorrhea can cause some gnarly complications. Unlike chlamydia, which tends to only cause damage to a woman’s body, gonorrhea can cause health problems for men and women alike. Some possible health effects of untreated gonorrhea are:

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • Infertility
  • Ectopic Pregnancy
  • Epididymitis in men (swelling of the coiled tube by the testicle)
  • DGI (a life-threatening blood infection that can lead to arthritis and other problems)

Those are some very concerning conditions, so how do you know if you’ve been infected?

Gonorrhea Infection Symptoms

Similar to chlamydia, most people do not have clear signs of being infected with gonorrhea, but there are a few symptoms to look out for:

Symptoms in women:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Painful, burning during urination
  • Rectal discharge, itching, bleeding, pain
  • Sore throat

Symptoms in men:

  • Discharge from penis
  • Testicular pain
  • Rectal discharge, itching, bleeding, pain
  • Sore Throat

Should I Get Tested for Gonorrhea?

Because most people with gonorrhea don’t have any signs or symptoms of infection, screening each year is crucial for detection, particularly for women. Men are more likely to have symptoms alerting them of infection, so testing may not be necessary. The CDC recommends regular testing for gonorrhea when it comes to:

  • Men or women with symptoms
  • Women under 25 who are sexually active
  • Women over 25 who either have a new partner or multiple partners
  • Men and women who have been exposed to someone with an infection

The days of going to public health to get tested for STIs may be over. Now, you can test discreetly with your online OBGYN who can order a screening test from your local lab. Contact My Virtual Physician to order your STI testing kit today.

Gonorrhea can be detected by performing a bacterial culture on either an early morning urine sample or a genital swab. The new CDC guidelines add a recommendation for rectal and pharyngeal (throat) testing if an infection is suspected in those parts of the body and also approve of patient-collected specimens.

If you test positive, be sure to notify all sexual partners within the past 60 days so they can also be tested and treated. If they are unable to see a doctor, talk with your physician to see if they can assist in making treatment medications available for others that may be infected.

How to Cure Gonorrhea

Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause gonorrhea. Sometimes your doctor may simultaneously treat you for chlamydia even if you have not been tested. With gonorrhea treatment, there is a risk of bacterial resistance; if you suspect your infection is not cured after completing your medication, call your doctor right away for a different treatment option.

Your doctor will determine whether it will be necessary to re-test after treatment. For most infections, re-testing is not required but is recommended after three months. If you had a positive throat swab, the CDC recommends testing for a negative result within 1 to 2 weeks after treatment. Both partners should refrain from sexual activity for a week after completing treatment to prevent re-infection. The CDC recommends scheduling a follow-up STI test within three months of treatment for patients who have been treated for gonorrhea.

Conclusion

STI testing and receiving a positive result, whether it’s gonorrhea or another infection, can be a mixed bag of emotions, but you don’t have to go it alone. Regular testing can catch the infection early on before any damage can be done to your reproductive system.

Have you received your annual STI screening for 2022? Schedule your appointment with My Virtual Physician so we can take care of your testing needs.

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